What’s the vision for Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia’s latest South American eatery? The answer is as easy as understanding its name. “CHE” is the Spanish slang term for “buddy” or “mate”, something that seems to underpin this casual, friendly Fitzroy diner with a focus on takeaway. The name is also an acronym for chicken, helados and empanadas – the three main items on the menu here.
The small and vibrant 40-seat diner, which opened in August, is accessed along the Johnston Street side of the old Fitzroy Post Office (take note because the address will steer you to Brunswick Street) and is the third venture for Saravia and his partners David and Michael Parker, and Renee and Jason McConnell, the team behind San Telmo and Pastuso.
Concept Design took charge of the festive but sophisticated space. Indoor plants and lightbulbs hover from the ceiling. At night, the space is accentuated by a fluorescent yellow glow that radiates from three large neon letters inside the windows, spelling out the name of the diner. An enormous Fileteado-inspired street-scene mural by Open Season runs from the floor to the ceiling.
Saravia and Renee say they’d been mulling the idea for a “more casual” space ever since Pastuso opened in 2014. But it took a company trip to South America one year later to help marinate a concept.
“That trip kind of brought the whole team together [so] each one of us could share our favourite things from the countries,” says Saravia. Renee adds that the trip also gave them ideas about what they thought was missing in the “Melbourne [South American] culinary experience”.
CHE’s main attraction is chicken and chips. The style is based on a mainstay Peruvian variety called Pollo a la Brasa – a Saturday take-away tradition that Saravia grew up with in Lima. He marinates his birds in a Peruvian spice mix and dark beer for two days before cooking up to 35 at a time in a large a rotisserie-style charcoal oven.
Sides and add-ons include various salsas, sauces and special salts (including the house-made chicken salt), plus Saravia’s crunchy hand-cut fries.
The Argentinian-style Empanadas are large and golden, and probably veer into starter or snack territory, and come in a chicken, corn and cheese or two different beef versions.
The second – and ultimately final – pillar of Saravia’s trinity is helado – ice-cream – dulce de leche-flavoured soft-serve. You can get it in a cone or sundae with roasted macadamias and malbec and blueberry jam as add-ons. McConnell, unaware she fashioned a pun, describes this as “soft serve with a twist.”
Mon to Tue 5pm–11pm
Wed to Sun 12pm–11pm